My father recently became a nonagenarian. I expect we have all heard of an octogenarian. This is a person between 80 and 90 years of age. Before this summer I, at least, had never heard of a nonagenarian which is a person between 90 and 100 years of age. I expect this is little known because few ever reach this lofty time of life, at least, with good health. My dad lives in his own home, is able to enjoy good food, friends, family, sports, music, and the companionship of a good woman.
This does not actually surprise me too much. We Allens come from good stock. My grandfather lived past 100 years. I also believe, similar to his father, his longevity has something to do with the nature of the man. Dad was always very active and did things his way. He has a positive attitude and always strived to achieve and overcome all obstacles. The following three articles were written in the summer of 2015 after about 8 hours of interviews with my father. It was presented to him in a small book form on his 90th birthday. 150 people attended his party although there was only one of a similar age. I hope you enjoy his history as much as I did writing it. Ron
Life began for wee George on a hillside across the Fraser River from Quesnel, B.C. Charlie and Florrie were homesteaders, newly from England, and were about to add a second child to their family.
In this early time (1925) transportation was not as efficient as it is today. With signs of a new life imminent, Charlie rushed Florrie on horseback and in the dark of night, to drag a boatman out of his warm bed. He was essential to ferry the obviously distressed young couple across the Fraser River. Florrie was in labor and needed to make the journey to Quesnel General Hospital. It was only good fortune that George was not born while listening to the waves lapping at the sides of their small vessel.
George’s father Charlie was born in 1890 in Wellingborough, England. He initially immigrated to Canada in 1912 at 22 years of age. His first Atlantic crossing was by ship a week after the Titanic disaster. It must have been disconcerting to eerily pass through the same waters where so many had perished. As a young soldier in the British Columbia Field Artillery he fought for Canada in WW1 where he was wounded and later fought at Vimy Ridge, in Belgium.
Florrie’s parents died when she was a child resulting in her being raised by an aunt and uncle. They operated a tavern and provided a stable upbringing for their niece.
Charlie was a slight man who made up for his diminutive stature with energy and passion. He would later become a skilled poet and author. Florrie was a majestic Anglo Saxon beauty who captured young Charlie’s heart while they were mutual members of a choir near London. At 16 years of age, Florrie promised her heart to the young adventurer who was 5 years her senior. They corresponded by mail while he, alone, tried his hand at homesteading for several years in Canada before going off to war. The mail was a little slow in those days, with months between installments, but Florrie waited patiently for the little man with the big heart. After being wounded, and on leave from his regiment, Charlie returned to marry the love of his life. At war’s end he whisked his bride off to an uncertain future in northern British Columbia where a new, and better, life was waiting. Coming from downtown London where she worked as a bank teller, Florrie must have had some doubts when travelling across America on a steam train’s wooden seats and subsisting on peanut butter sandwiches.
Arriving in Quesnel, where Charlie’s brother was the Government Agent, they secured land on the aforementioned hillside across from the burgeoning City of Quesnel. Their first child, Audrey, was born shortly after their arrival and George Frederick came along 5 years later. Charlie and Florrie laboured, clearing the land, building fences and barns, and trying to eke out a living as best they could. After 6 years, with taxes and loan payments due and Audrey reaching school age, they abandoned the farm and moved to Kenora, Ontario where the Allen family built a home and life.
As stated, although a hard worker and good provider, Charlie was a slight man and had difficulty maintaining employment when they first moved to Kenora. He initially worked in a flower mill but had difficulty lifting the bags that weighed only slightly less than himself. Many jobs at this time were unavailable to Charlie due to his stature. They struggled financially for several years but Charlie eventually secured employment as a grocer, a vocation he had performed in England. After a few years in this vocation, he joined the Masons and secured long-term employment as a letter carrier for the local post office. He delivered mail to the residents of this small Northern Ontario community for decades and provided a comfortable income for his family in this manner.
The Allens initially rented a house on Gold Street in Kenora, but later built a home on Park Street, where they would reside until the children left home and Charlie and Florrie eventually moved to a supportive living situation in their twilight years. Florrie passed away from heart failure on the eve of their 60th wedding anniversary, while Charlie lived to the ripe old age of 101 years. His enduring admiration for his bride was made evident in the poetry and prose he penned in her honor. (Charlie’s Poem) ⇒♥
Upon moving to Kenora, young George seemed to take some of the outdoorsman with him from Quesnel. Although much more urban than their homestead, Kenora had some of the frontier culture in the 1930s. Not an enthusiastic scholar, George thrived on the outdoor life, buying his own canoe, bicycle and gun from paper-route money at 13 years of age. He earned $1.00 to $2.00 per week from the paper route and had to collect money from his patrons. This was not an easy task at times as people did not always have available funds requiring numerous return trips to secure his booty. As George climbed the newspaper hierarchy, he was able to acquire larger, and more lucrative, paper routes. He would pass on the smaller routes to his younger sibling, Ted. Ted was the third child, born five years after George in Kenora. His two siblings were not of a similar nature to young George, preferring more urban pursuits as children and adults. Ted and George did have a similar interest in urban recreation, however. They would take their paper route spoils and invest $0.10 weekly to watch Flash Gordon, Hopalong Cassidy, or the Lone Ranger at the local theatre.
By his 15th year, with canoe, gun and fishing rod in hand, George was spending entire summer weekends in the myriad of isolated bays on the vast Lake of the Woods near Kenora. He survived on small animals and fish, and slept under his canoe, with Matheson Bay his favorite weekend hideaway. He bothered little for peer accompaniment but felt gifted by a possible touch of aboriginal heritage as his skin was tinted from his outdoor forays and he could frequently be found conversing comfortably with those from various Ojibwa encampments along the lake. Charlie and Florrie must have been very trusting of their 15 year old son to allow such liberties. Although confident in their middle child’s survival skills, Florrie would sit outside their home on Sunday evenings, unable to retire until she heard the familiar paddle stroke and water lapping on her son’s canoe as he completed his journey up the creek to the bottom of their yard.
George’s interests and prowess in wilderness pursuits led to his employment as a fishing guide at a remote lodge called Cameron Camps in Northern Ontario at about 15 years of age. Many years later he worked a second summer as a fishing guide at this same resort where he was able to bring his young family. Outdoor sport remained a life-long passion for George with hunting, fishing and camping passed on to his children and pursued many weekends and summers through their upbringing.
Although George’s adventurous nature fostered a Tom Sawyer-ish identity, his exploits were not always condoned by his parents or community leaders. In one instance, at 13 years of age, he and his best friend, Jimmy Portman, peddled their bikes to Winnipeg, some 200 kilometers away. They apparently visited Jimmy’s relatives before attempting the return trip. Soon tired, they threw their bicycles on one of the cars of an old steam train and rode with the hobos back to Kenora. This was during the depression with many thousands of unemployed and homeless men travelling in such a manner to seek employment and a better life. Jimmy and George did not find their association with these men untoward and briefly learned what life was like travelling the rails. The act of train jumping was, in fact, a fairly common practice during this time. Both George and his friends could frequently be found on weekends hopping a train or two and spending whole days at isolated encampments of homeless men. One inadvertent close call of almost being sliced in two by an unruly train caused George to reconsider his choice of weekend entertainment.
A second incident had a slightly more onerous consequence. At a similar age, George and Jimmy Portman (Jimmy’s influence no doubt) swam from Kenora, across a portion of Lake of the Woods to Coney Island, about a kilometer in distance, depending upon where they departed. For a pair of 13 year olds with little distance training in swimming, this was quite a trek. After spending the day on the beach, no doubt seeking the company of young ladies, and, having spent their money on sustenance and/or the said young ladies, the boys decided they were too tired to make the return trip. They consequently found a seemingly derelict canoe along the shore and began paddling for the mainland. Half way across, however, the canoe sank causing the boys to swim the remainder of the distance to shore. Unfortunately their choice of victim, ie. the canoe’s owner, was somewhat imprudent, as it belonged to the local town judge. When the two sopping teens reached shore, the police were awaiting their arrival. They were escorted to the local hoosegow for a few hours to consider their treacherous error of judgement.
From all indication, George had a certain way with the women. He was never shy and developed some skills that assisted his interest in the fairer sex. While barely in his teens, George would frequently attend the Rowing Rink in Kenora, where dances were a common activity. His big sister, Audrey, took the emerging George under her wing and taught him how to dance. He was to become an avid and skilled dancer, no doubt realizing the value of this skill that has served him admirably throughout his life.
One must picture George’s life in Kenora. There were few motorized vehicles to the extent Charlie never owned a vehicle or learned to drive. There were no refrigerators so ice and milk were delivered daily to each home. An ice box in the basement kept perishables from spoiling. Their home included a coal chute that descended to the basement as coal was used to keep their home toasty and warm in the winter. Charlie and Florrie’s home was also heated by wood with logs hauled to the back door then chopped in the basement to make firewood. Their basement was frequently home to several large rats requiring the ice box to be segregated by netting so these furry creatures could not dine on the family provisions. Fond memories recalled by George portrayed him and his friends chasing the ice truck in summer to lick any errant ice cubes, and milk bottles freezing in winter causing a spout of milk to rise above the bottle neck. This protrusion was mostly cream and was sucked for its sweet taste. I’m not sure how this pursuit was received by the Allen adults, however, as only skim milk would reach the dinner table.
The Allens were a typical family of the times, with Florrie remaining in the home to care for the children and Charlie serving as provider for the family. Every Sunday Florrie cooked a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner that was her specialty. Any excess grease was used on bread for the remainder of the week. George, however, hated Mondays as they always had cold leftover roast and Yorkshire pudding. Also on Sundays, Pearl and Jack Burnham, who were old friends from England, came over to play bridge. George learned bridge from a young age and has continued to be an ardent player throughout his life. The Allens always had a big garden and preserved much of the proceeds, as well as the plentiful berries in the area, for winter use. Many people had chickens in their yards and went door to door selling chickens and eggs. George particularly enjoy the summers as he, and his friends, could feast on several neighbour’s gardens while under night’s protection.